Geoffrey Hill, The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin, edited by Kenneth Haynes (OUP, 2019)
The posthumous work of poets is generally something of an accident, in publishing terms at least: things left done but unpublished, unfinished, or simply dropped along the way; at all events, gatherings of these are often in the nature of a coda, a little extra, or even (if we’re lucky) a substantial addition to the already-familiar oeuvre. In this – as in almost everything else – Geoffrey Hill moved out of step with his own and others’ times, having planned and produced a large work that was intended all along to be posthumous – its ending, that is, coterminous with his own – and to disturb any overly untroubled judgements and overviews of the kind that typically accompany the demise of major artists. We do not need to be thinking about classical music to see that an observation like ‘The final bar of Schubert’s Quintet is not a sigh but an exultant snarl’ (253) is intended to have some bearing on the way this book stands in relation to the planned end of Hill’s poetic career. And if we say blandly that we like this, then either we are gluttons for punishment or we’ve missed the point.
Not that points should necessarily be taken rather than missed; and some points are better lost on us in the end. So, if I say that there is much in The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin that I find repetitively recalcitrant, ...
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